Reading The Children s Story by James Clavell, made me think a little more about this question that I had no answer for. A person needs to be able to explain why he does what he does. Children are innocent and unknowing; they are like a blank piece of paper waiting to be filled up with drawings and ideas. This book shows just how easy it is to mold a child.
It uses a classroom of children facing a major change in their lives as the setting. The story moves quickly and the characters are only briefly sketched out. The story has a science fiction feel to it. The events preceding the story include a war (with an unknown opponent) that we have lost. The main character among the children is Johnny whose father fought in the war and is now being held prisoner. Johnny is afraid for his father and about the changes that are coming to his school because of the defeat.
The author is able to assume that we all share common experiences from our youth and our days in grade school, introducing the characters with a minimum of prose. The major theme is critiquing education systems that teach children what to think by repetition and memorization. Clavell uses the story to point out how that makes individuals vulnerable to manipulation.
How many education systems look at the students as individuals? Most education systems lump all the students into a nameless, impersonal mass. In the story, the old teacher doesn t always remember the students names, has never had children of her own, and her memories of all her classes led to a legion of faces of which none stood out. In contrast, the new teacher memorizes in advance all the students names and birthdays. That is enough to impress any child.
Although the children in the story resist at first, it doesn t take this new teacher long to convince them to do away with the Pledge of Allegiance and to rip up the flag. Not a single child could explain why they say the pledge or what they were pledging allegiance to. When the students initially showed curiosity on the topic, they were rebuffed by the old teacher. The message was clear, you are not here to think you are here to learn. It made me wonder, if I were to walk into a classroom today, how many children would know why they were saying the Pledge of Allegiance? I didn t know as a child why we said this every morning, it was just something I had to do.
The new teacher is very subversive, and after dispatching the Pledge of Allegiance, she attacks religion and the flag as other symbols that may not be worthy of reverence. All the good things in life come from the new leaders. The children believe her, because they have been programmed to believe that their leaders are always right and must be obeyed. It only took her 23 minutes to convert enemies of the leader into good citizens!
Blind obedience is dangerous, teaching methods that teach conclusions without teaching logic and analysis is dangerous. A person needs to be able to explain why he loves God and why he loves his country.
The children s story is Clavell s rebuttal to the conservative faction that often fears the introduction of new ideas. His purpose is to show how a shallow and rigid system might make for better-citizens in the short run, but actually makes the citizenry more vulnerable to subversion in the long run. I want my children to know why they say and do the things they do.